US and Iran on Syria, Chemical Weapons

April 5, 2017
Updated

On April 4, more than 80 people died after planes reportedly dropped chemical bombs on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria. At least 100 others were later treated in hospitals in Idlib province while several dozen were transferred to Turkey. The victims included women and children. The United States, Britain, France, and the European Union held the Syrian regime responsible for the attack. President Donald Trump said the attack was “reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world.”

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, however, went further by calling on Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, to use their influence to ensure Syria does not perpetrate the same kind of attack again. “As the self-proclaimed guarantors to the ceasefire negotiated in Astana, Russia and Iran also bear great moral responsibility for these deaths,” he said. Tillerson was referring to January 2017 peace talks held in Kazakhstan backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey in which the U.S. only had an observer role. Both Russia and Iran have provided the Bashar al Assad’s government with critical military support against rebels.

On April 5, the U.S. Security Council held an emergency session to discuss the attack. The United States, Britain and France proposed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the attack and calling on Syria to provide an international investigation with flight plans and logs for the previous day, the names of helicopter squadron commanders and access to air bases. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned that Russia “cannot escape responsibility for this,” and suggested that Washington could take action on Syria in the absence of a U.N. response. She claimed that Russia and Iran are not interested in peace.

Russia, however, rejected the resolution as anti-Syrian. “The text as presented is categorically unacceptable,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “It pre-empts the results of an investigation and just immediately designates the guilty. Damascus is portrayed as guilty.”

Syria, Iran and Russia, held anti-government militants responsible for the incident. “The armed terrorist groups used to accuse the Syrian Arab Army of using toxic gases against them or against civilians at anytime they fail to implement the targets of their sponsors and operators or when they are unable to achieve any advantages on the ground in an desperate attempt to justify their failure and to maintain the support of their masters,” the Syrian army’s general command said in a statement. A Syrian military source told Reuters that it “does not and has not” used chemical weapons. Sharif Shahada, a Syrian lawmaker, said that a chemical weapons depot under rebel control may have exploded. He said the Syrian government does possess such weapons and accused Turkey of arming rebels with chemical arms. Iran implicated the rebels by generally condemning the use of chemical weapons and calling for the disarmament of “terrorist groups.”

Russia’s explanation matched the Syrian and Iranian narrative. “Yesterday [Tuesday], from 11:30am to 12:30pm local time, Syrian aviation made a strike on a large terrorist ammunition depot and a concentration of military hardware in the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun town," Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konoshenkov said. Local journalists, meanwhile, say there are no military positions in the town, although rebel groups do control the surrounding area.

On April 6, the United States fired 59 Tomahawk missiles from destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea against the Shayrat air base, where Washington says the aircraft that carried out the chemical attack originated. The late-night attack targeted aircraft and aircraft shelters, ammunition, air defense systems and radars. Syria, Russia and Iran condemned the strike. 

The Syrian regime has repeatedly denied accusations that it has used chemical weapons in other instances during the civil war, which has left more than 250,000 dead and displaced millions. For example, the government blamed rebels for a 2013 Sarin gas attack that killed more than 1,000 in the Damascus suburbs. Under threat of U.S. retaliation, Assad agreed to a U.S.-Russian agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program. But the process took longer than expected and raised doubts about whether all the dangerous materials were accounted for. The following are remarks by U.S., Iranian and Russian officials on the recent attack.

 

The United States

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

The United States strongly condemns the chemical weapons attack in Idlib province, the third allegation of the use of such weapons in the past month alone. There are reports of dozens dead, including many children. While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism. Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions. Anyone who uses chemical weapons to attack his own people shows a fundamental disregard for human decency and must be held accountable.

It is also clear that this horrific conflict, now in its seventh year, demands a genuine ceasefire and the supporters of the armed combatants in the region need to ensure compliance. We call upon Russia and Iran, yet again, to exercise their influence over the Syrian regime and to guarantee that this sort of horrific attack never happens again. As the self-proclaimed guarantors to the ceasefire negotiated in Astana, Russia and Iran also bear great moral responsibility for these deaths.

—April 4, 2017, in a statement

 

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley

"We cannot close our eyes to those pictures. We cannot close our minds…”

“Time and time again Russia uses the same false narrative to deflect attention from their ally in Damascus.”

“How many more children have to die before Russia cares?”

“The truth is Syria, Russia and Iran have no interest in peace.”

“Russia cannot escape responsibility for this.”

“When the U.N. consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”

If the United Nations does not take action, “we may.”

—April 5, 2017, at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting

 

President Donald Trump

Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.

—April 4, 2017, in a statement

“Yesterday, chemical attack, a chemical attack that was so horrific in Syria against innocent people, including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies, their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.”

“I think the Obama administration had a responsibility to solve the crisis a long time ago. And when he didn't cross that line in making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world because it was a blank threat. I think it was something that was not one of our better days as a country.”

“I now have responsibility and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly.”

“It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.”

—April 5, 2017, during a press conference with Jordanian King Abdullah II

My fellow Americans:  On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians.  Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children.  It was a slow and brutal death for so many.  Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.  No child of God should ever suffer such horror.

Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.  It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.  There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council. 

Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically.  As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies. 

Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.  We ask for God's wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world.  We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed.  And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail. 

Goodnight.  And God bless America and the entire world.  Thank you.

—April 6, 2017, in a statement

 

Iran

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

 

 

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi

“We strongly condemn any use of chemical weapons, irrespective of who used them or their victims,”

“Considering the transfer, stockpile and use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups in Syria, the Islamic Republic of Iran has always believed that despite the disarmament of the Syrian government through its full cooperation and under the supervision of a joint representative of the UN and the OPCW, ignoring the need for the chemical disarmament of terrorist groups has been a major flaw in the country's chemical disarmament process.”

“Jumping to overhasty verdicts as to the perpetrators would only seek to profit politically by specific circles outside Syria which have stakes in the country. Viewing the incident through different standards should be abandoned for more balanced view of the event itself and establishment of a committee to look into the issue.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly believes that terrorist groups in Syria had been taken red-handed in stockpiling chemical weapons. Despite the chemical disarmament of Syrian government by the UN and POCW, there has been a thorn in the side of the international community that some petty terrorist groups still have access to chemical weapons, which also threatens the peace process in the country.”

"As long as terrorist groups roam the country freely, such disasters will be looming over the country and civilians; the Islamic Republic of Iran offers heartfelt condolences to the families of victims of the attack and would offer medical services to the injured."

—April 5, 2017, in a statement, according to PressTV and Mehr News Agency

 

Joint Command Operation Center of Syrian Allies (including Iran and Russia)

“The United States crossed red lines by attacking Syria, from now on we will respond to anyone, including America if it attacks Syria and crosses the red lines.”

“America knows very well our ability and capabilities to respond well to them, [and] we will respond without taking into consideration any reaction and consequences.”

“Rest assured that we will liberate Syria from all kinds of occupying forces, it does not matter from where they came to the occupied part of Syria.”

“Russia and Iran will not allow the United States to be the only superpower in world."

Syria’s allies are “closely and deeply following American forces' moves and presence" in the areas of northern Syria and northwestern Iraq and "consider them [to be] an occupying force."

—April 9, 2017, in a statement

 

Russia

President Vladimir Putin

“The bold action just displayed support for terrorists; Russia believes US missile attack was well-orchestrated in advance, and will definitely not help better the situation in Syria.”

—April 9, 2017, during a telephone conversation with President Rouhani

 

Foreign Ministry

The United States conducted strikes against Syrian government troops in the early hours of April 7, using chemical weapons attacks in Idlib Province as a pretext.

The US opted for a show of force, for military action against a country fighting international terrorism without taking the trouble to get the facts straight.

It is not the first time that the US chooses an irresponsible approach that aggravates problems the world is facing, and threatens international security. The very presence of military personnel from the US and other countries in Syria without consent from the Syrian government or a UN Security Council mandate is an egregious and obvious violation of international law that cannot be justified. While previous initiatives of this kind were presented as efforts to combat terrorism, now they are clearly an act of aggression against a sovereign Syria. Actions undertaken by the US today inflict further damage to the Russia-US relations.

Russia has expressed on numerous occasions that it was ready to cooperate on resolving the most urgent issues the world is facing today, and that fighting international terrorism was a top priority. However, we will never agree to unsanctioned action against the legitimate Syrian government that has been waging an uncompromising war on international terrorism for a long time.

Seeking to justify military action Washington has totally distorted what had happened in Idlib. The US could not have failed to grasp the fact that the Syrian government troops did not use chemical weapons there. Damascus simply does not have them, as confirmed a number of times by qualified experts. This was the conclusion reached by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Over the recent years this organisation inspected almost all the facilities linked or possibly linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme. As for Idlib, the terrorists operating there used to produce toxic land mines intended for use in Syria and Iraq. These manufacturing facilities were put out of operation in a military operation carried out by the Syrian air force.

The US pretends that it does not understand obvious things, turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons in Iraq, officially confirmed by Baghdad. The US refuses to believe the evidence provided by certified documents confirming the use of chemical weapons by terrorists in Aleppo. In doing so, the US is abetting international terrorism and making it stronger. New WMD attacks can be expected.

There is no doubt that the military action by the US is an attempt to divert attention from the situation in Mosul, where the campaign carried out among others by US-led coalition has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties and an escalating humanitarian disaster.

It is obvious that the cruise missile attack was prepared in advance. Any expert understands that Washington’s decision on air strikes predates the Idlib events, which simply served as a pretext for a show of force.

Russia suspends the Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Flight Safety Incidents in the course of operations in Syria signed with the US.

We call on the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the latest developments.

—April 7, 2017, in a statement

 

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

"This is an act of aggression, on an absolutely made-up pretext.”

"It reminds me of the situation in 2003 when the United States and Britain, along with some of their allies, attacked Iraq."

"I hope this provocation will not lead to irreparable damage (to U.S.-Russian ties).”

—April 7, 2017, to the press

 

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova

“On April 4, Syrian Air Force carried out airstrikes on the eastern outskirts of the city of Khan Sheikhoun as part of the operation to deal with the aftermath of the recent breakthrough by armed groups in the Hama province.

Reports on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its own people appeared online and in some biased media outlets instantly. Curiously enough, at first there were reports that ammunition stuffed with toxic substances was dropped from Russian aircraft followed by reports on the number of the so-called victims of the chemical attack and video footage showing dying and dead children, women and the elderly.”

“Unfortunately, based on totally fake information, the United States, France, and Great Britain have once again planted – one cannot put it any other way – into the U.N. Security Council a draft resolution which has completely anti-Syrian character.”

—April 5, 2017, in a statement, according to TASS and The Telegraph

 

Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Petr Illichev

Illichev said reports accusing the Syrian army for carrying out the attack were based on “false information.”

“We need an objective enquiry into what happened as until now there have been false reports on these incidents which have come from the White Helmets and the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights in London, which have been discredited long ago. They are not professional.”

April 5, 2017, according to The Telegraph

 

Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov

 “Russia and its armed forces will continue their operations to support the anti-terrorist operations of Syria’s armed forces to free the country.”

April 5, 2017, according to Reuters

 

Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konoshenkov

“According to Russian airspace monitoring systems, yesterday between 11.30 and 12.30 local time the Syrian aviation carried out an airstrike on the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhun, targeting a major ammunition storage facility of terrorists and a cluster of military hardware. The territory of this storage facility housed workshops to produce projectiles stuffed with toxic agents.”

“From this major arsenal, chemical-laden weapons were delivered by militants to Iraq. Their use by terrorists was confirmed on numerous occasions by international organizations and official authorities of the country.”

"Video footage from social networks shows that those affected in Khan Sheikhun demonstrate the same symptoms of poisoning as the victims of the Aleppo attack had last fall.”

"We assure that this information is completely unbiased and true.”

April 5, 2017, in a statement, according to TASS

Updated